It Was the Worst of Times; It was the Best of Times: Are Our Schools and Kids Awful?

In yesterday’s Daily Mail they ran the following headline:

The worst behaved pupils in the world? You’d better believe it: As a study says schools are even more anarchic than we thought, the shocking testimony of a once idealistic young teacher.” What followed was an article reflecting on a survey about how our pupils are rated amongst the worst behaved in the developed world. The article was written by Robert Peal, a person who I have a lot of time for and I think has a valuable contribution to make to our current debates. In the article he seems to put the blame on this classroom anarchy on the Sixties and the rise of “progressive education.” Robert quotes an earlier Daily Mail Headline from 1974: “Stop these trendies before they ruin ALL our children,” to which he adds the thought: “But the rot had already set in — and has endured.”

Just to put some cards on the table I was at school in a disastrous comprehensive school in 1974. It wasn’t disastrous because of trendies, in fact it was disastrous because those in charge of the previous Girl’s Grammar school (the fuddy duddys?) remained in charge of the new school and they had no idea how to cope with boys especially those of us who weren’t particularly respectful of authority. They hit us but couldn’t break us…

But that’s by the by… I couldn’t help reflecting on Robert’s article when I looked at headlines in yesterday’s Times that reported another survey, this time from the University of Cardiff’s Violence and Society Research Group, that comes to the conclusion that our young people are “far more sensible than their parents…” and that this, the adjoining article stated, is backed up by a number of other surveys stating that drug use continues to fall, binge drinking is down, incidents of violent crime are going down, and there is a rise in the number of young people who don’t drink alcohol at all. Added to this the Times reports that ‘Generation Zero’ (aged between 16-25) are: “…hard workers, ambitious and less materialistic…” than previous generations.

So who has not ruined the current generation? It can’t be, can it, those blooming progressive trendies that inhabit our schools, could it be that the chance to let off steam in an anarchic classroom does our young people good?

I think perhaps things are more complex than they seem. Somewhere along the line most teachers are probably doing a good job inhabiting a world that is probably far more traditional than some of the more lurid headlines suggest. Saying that, I do think what we teach and how we teach needs to be discussed openly and honestly and it is in this spirit that I welcome Robert’s book Progressively Worse and wish him good luck in his new school. We do need more teachers like Robert in our schools but I do wonder whether the way we introduce some young teachers to our profession, by throwing them into some of our more anarchic institutions is the best way to bring the best out of them.

Our bad schools need to be sorted out through good discipline policies and procedures in order to enable all to staff to develop their teaching (and children their learning) without the turmoil or even low level disruption that too many teachers are expected to tolerate.



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